Facing a doomsday deadline of Jan. 16, the NHL and the union met for 4 hours in Chicago on Sunday in an effort to break the stalemate in negotiations and save the season.
Brian Burke and Jeffrey Pash, both senior vice presidents, represented the league in the low-level talks aimed at ending the three-month lockout. On hand for the NHLPA were lawyers John McCambridge and Bob Riley.
The Canadian Press reported that both sides remained overnight in Chicago and intend to continue bargaining today.
Burke’s role in these preliminary talks could be pivotal since he has been critical of union head Bob Goodenow.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said last week the season must begin by Jan. 16 if there is to be a 50-game regular season and full round of playoffs. That would suggest that an agreement must be in place eight to 10 days before Jan. 16 to allow for contract ratification and at least a week of training camp.
A payroll tax, which players say is a salary cap in disguise, threatens the talks. Players say they will never accept a tax, which owners feel is necessary if player concessions do not accomplish the NHL’s goal of restraining rising salaries.
The NHL’s proposal calls for a gate receipt tax to accompany the payroll tax, with the proceeds from the gate tariff going to small-market teams to help them compete.
Paul Weiler, a labor scholar at Harvard University, says NHL owners would have been better off devising a meaningful revenue-sharing formula to solve their economic woes rather than trying to cap players’ salaries with a prohibitive tax.
He contends the NHL suffers from separate problems - revenue disparity between small and large markets and rising salaries that consume an unduly high share of total league revenue.
Weiler, a Canadian, is a former head of the British Columbia Labor Relations Board and was a candidate to become NHL commissioner before Gary Bettman got the job.